“Kean (Dance of Desire) delivers rich local color and sparkling romantic tension in this fast-paced medieval revenge plot.”
– Publisher’s Weekly
Geoffrey de Lanceau is a knight, the son of the man who once ruled Wode. His noble sire died, however, branded as a traitor. But never will Geoffrey believe his father betrayed their king, and swears vengeance against the man who brought his sire down in a siege to take over Wode.
Lady Elizabeth Brackendale dreamed of marrying for love, but is promised by her father to a lecherous old baron. Then she is abducted and held for ransom by a scarred, tormented rogue who turns out to be the very knight who has sworn vengeance against her father.
The threads of deception sewn eighteen years ago bind the past and present. Only by Geoffrey and Elizabeth championing their forbidden love can the truth – and the lies — be revealed about a knight’s vengeance.
Free Preview of A Knight’s Vengeance
(Knight’s Series Book One)
“A love potion, dove? An elixir ta ease yer lonely heart?”
“Not this day, thank you.” Lady Elizabeth Brackendale strolled past the one-eyed peddler waving flasks and vials. As she sidestepped a mound of manure, she sighed. Love potion, indeed. Her heart’s afflictions could not be cured in that manner.
Behind her, she heard the voices and booted footsteps of her lady-in-waiting and two armed guards. What a nuisance the men-at-arms were, an unwelcome reminder of the perilous future.
Elizabeth shivered, skirted two men arguing over a spilled crate of onions, and walked further into the crowded market square. She would not spoil this rare, glorious day that her father had allowed her to leave Wode’s fortified walls. She would not worry about the lord rumored to be plotting vengeance against her sire, a rogue named Geoffrey de Lanceau.
Her father would deal with him.
Tipping her face into the breeze, she inhaled a waft of ripe vegetables, wood smoke, and horse. Ahead, men unloaded cartloads of cloth and spices, jugglers performed for a laughing crowd, and merchants hawked their wares. What a glorious mélange of smells, sights, and sounds. How she had missed her visits to the market.
Apprehension, cold as bone fingers, trailed down her spine. If only battle were not looming in the days ahead. If anything happened to her father . . .
She shoved the thought aside. When necessary, he would summon his armies, crush de Lanceau, and peace would again rule Moydenshire. Her father could not fail with Baron Sedgewick of Avenley and his armies at his side.
Baron Sedgewick. Her betrothed.
In seven days, her husband.
Fluttering strips of cloth lured her toward a stall. Blinking away tears, she paused and fingered a blood red ribbon. Resentment flared, sharper than her worry. She could not wed the baron. She would not! How could she marry and leave her father’s side with de Lanceau still a threat? How could she marry a man she did not love, but loathed?
She must persuade her father to break the engagement.
Or, she would find a way to escape it.
“Three pieces of silver? I suggest you reconsider.”
Recognizing the voice, Elizabeth dared a sidelong glance. Mildred Cottlepod, her gray-haired lady-in-waiting, scowled at a hunchbacked crone who sold healing herbs. Elizabeth’s gaze slid to her guards. They leaned against crates of squawking chickens while pointing to the jugglers who boasted of an impossible feat.
Onlookers shouted bets. Coins clinked.
The guards laughed and reached for their money purses.
Elizabeth sucked in a breath. Could she slip away? How wondrous, to elude her guards’ watchful gazes for a while. Since de Lanceau had taken up residence in his crown-awarded keep two months ago, they had become her permanent shadows.
Heat stung Elizabeth’s cheeks, and her fingers tightened around the ribbon. She was a grown woman, not a witless simpleton who needed constant supervision.
No harm would come to her in this peaceful town protected by her father’s fortress. Without her guards hovering nearby, mayhap she could think of a way to convince her sire to annul the betrothal.
And, she could choose the thread she needed to finish the embroidery on the orphans’ chemises and shirts, for she had promised the nuns she would be donating gifts of clothes and sweetmeats to the children. Her lips flattened on a painful, buried memory. She would not forget the thread, or the promise she had made, one year ago, when her mother and infant sister had died.
“Ye like it, milady?” said a gruff voice.
“Pardon?” She swung around, and came face to face with the stall’s proprietor.
He jabbed a grubby finger at the bit of silk in her hand.
“’Tis lovely.” She dropped a silver coin into his palm, far more than the ribbon cost, but no doubt he had a wife and children to feed. He flashed her a toothless grin. She smiled back and glanced at her guards. They were engrossed in the bet.
Lifting up her bliaut to keep it out of the dirt, she darted into the market square.
A thrill rippled through her. Freedom, at last.
The merchant who stocked the nicest thread was just past—
“Milady.” A man’s voice carried over the honk, honk of geese flapping to get out of her way.
Had her guards seen her?
Ignoring the shouts and clop of hooves behind her, she sidestepped a puddle and quickened her steps.
“Milady, look out!”
Elizabeth whirled around. A wagon laden with wooden casks rumbled straight for her.
The driver yelled for her to get out of the way. He jerked hard on the horse’s reins. The wild-eyed beast tossed its head, snorted, and refused to obey its master’s command.
Elizabeth lunged to the side, expecting to feel the stinging weight of the animal’s hooves. A muscled arm snaked around her waist. She shrieked an instant before she was yanked to safety. The cart hurtled past.
Elizabeth coughed. Waving her hands, she tried to disperse the dust that burned her eyes and clung to her cloak, hair, and skin. Her legs wobbled. She prayed the stranger who had saved her would not release his hold, or she would topple face first on the ground. She closed her eyes against a wave of dizziness.
“You fool. Were you trying to get yourself killed?”
Her coughing subsided. She recognized the deep, rich voice that had called out moments ago. Fool? Who would dare to chastise her so? She, the daughter of Lord Arthur Brackendale.
Equally annoying, she had sagged into the stranger’s arms like a swooning maiden. Her cheek pressed against his warm chest.
Elizabeth took a steadying breath, calmed by the rhythmic thud beneath her ear, the pulse of life. This man did not deserve her anger, but her gratitude. He had risked himself great harm to save her from a painful death.
“Kind sir, I owe you my thanks,” she said.
His arms, curved around her waist, relaxed. He must have sensed her strength returning. “A moment more, and you would have been crushed beneath the wagon’s wheels,” he said. “A pity, indeed, if such a fair damsel were broken like a child’s toy.”
His breath stirred the hair at her forehead. Goosebumps shot down her arms. She did not like the sensation, or the trace of humor warming his voice.
“I did not see the wagon,” Elizabeth said.
“Nor did you heed my warning.”
He spoke in the same tone as her father when he told her of her betrothal, but her sire had gentled his words by insisting the arrangement was for her safety, to ensure she and Wode never fell into de Lanceau’s clutches. She scowled. Her whole life it seemed of late was governed by this rogue de Lanceau.
She tipped up her chin. Her savior was a tall man. Shoulder muscles stretched his gray wool tunic. She steeled herself against his enticing, musky scent. “You are bold to speak to me in such a manner.”
“Not half as bold, milady, as you appear to be.”
Elizabeth groaned, for he spoke true. Her hands curled into his tunic. The ribbon poked between her fingers.
“Or half so bold again,” he continued with a velvety drawl, “as if I had stolen a kiss from your sweet lips.”
Her breath caught in her throat, trapped like a robin in a hawk’s talons. She wrenched free of his hold. The ribbon slipped from her grasp and drifted toward the ground.
“You would not dare kiss me.”
The stranger chuckled, and Elizabeth glared up at him. Her gaze locked with eyes the color of cold steel. Magnificent, captivating eyes, framed by dark lashes. His gaze glinted with amusement. And challenge.
Unease shot through Elizabeth. Where were her guards?
The stranger’s stare did not waver. His eyebrows arched with unquestionable arrogance, and her heart beat like a frantic bird’s wings. Why did he not lower his gaze and show her due respect? He must realize her position. Her sky blue gown was tailored to the latest court fashion and sewn from the finest English wool, unlike his plain, homespun gray tunic and hose.
“You are a fool to challenge me,” she said, hoping to hear the loud roar that signaled the end of the jugglers’ act.
The stranger smiled. “I am the fool? I did not run into a wagon’s path.” His grin widened to reveal straight, white teeth without a spot of decay. “Mayhap your attention was claimed by more important thoughts, such as the whispered endearments of an eager suitor?”
She gasped, aware that curious townsfolk had gathered around them. Insolent knave. How dare he mock her before an audience, and her father’s people? “Do you not know who I am?”
“A lady, forsooth.” His gaze traveled the length of her cloak. “Come to market to buy a pretty trinket?”
Pride warmed her voice. “My father is lord of the keep which stands upon yonder hill, and the lands surrounding it for many leagues.”
Surprise and anger flashed in the man’s eyes. “You are Brackendale’s daughter?”
She had expected awe, not the fury and stark pain that ravaged his features. He looked wounded, cut to his soul. She wondered at the source of his anguish, even as the emotion vanished and his lips thinned into a bitter, controlled smile.
Over the crowd’s murmurs, she heard shouts and the thunder of approaching footsteps.
“Your faithful guards, milady.”
Elizabeth smothered a relieved sigh. “Good. My father will enjoy meeting a rogue who thought to kiss me.”
“Alas, I must miss that meeting, and bid you good day.”
Without warning, he caught her fingers. He bent at the waist, an elegant movement better suited to a chivalrous knight than a knave, and shiny brown hair fell over his face. Light as a feather, his lips brushed the back of her hand.
Heat skittered across Elizabeth’s skin, spiraled through her arm, and pooled in her belly. The odd sensation was both exciting and frightening.
She yanked her fingers free, and he smiled.
“Until we meet again, milady.” Without the slightest attempt at a bow, he turned and strode into the crowd.
A hand clutched Elizabeth’s arm. “By the blessed Virgin,” Mildred said, wide-eyed, her wrinkled fingers at her throat. “Are you all right?”
Elizabeth nodded. Her flesh still tingled, as though his mouth continued to ply its sensual wickedness upon her.
Indeed, her whole body tingled.
“The man who saved you—”
“A rogue.” Elizabeth glared at her guards. “Find him.”
Drawing his sword, one of the men-at-arms hurried off in pursuit. The other bellowed for the throng to disperse.
As Elizabeth forced her breath to slow and fought the heat in her cheeks, the stranger’s parting words spun through her mind.
Until we meet again, milady.
Were the words a promise? Or a threat?
Geoffrey de Lanceau leaned against the mildewed wattle-and-daub wall of Totter’s Ale House, his arms crossed over his chest and his gaze on the lady. He had easily eluded the guard. In his childhood, Geoffrey had scampered through Wode’s narrow streets and alleys many times, and he had not forgotten them.
The matron fussed over her charge like a hen clucking at a chick. The lady’s hands clenched into fists, her chin thrust up, and even from a distance, he saw the spark of her eyes. A willful damsel. She did not like to be scolded, even if she deserved a tongue-wagging.
He cursed under his breath, for his palms still burned where they had pressed against her slender waist, holding her, so she would not crumple into the offal at her feet. Her honeyed scent clung to him, as damning as the scorn in her voice.
Of all the things he had expected this morning, it was not she. He had come to Wode to study his enemy, to learn from the folk who frequented the market, to find Lord Brackendale’s weakness. He had not anticipated that weakness would fall into his arms in the form of a fragrant, tempting woman, whose blue eyes, lush mouth, and beauty could tempt the most pious man to commit sin.
He dismissed his ridiculous interest. She was the daughter of the man responsible for his father’s death.
He intended to destroy Lord Arthur Brackendale.
A shuffling sound came from behind him.
Geoffrey’s senses snapped alert. Warning hummed in his veins. He grabbed the dagger in his belt and whipped around.
His friend and fellow knight, Dominic de Terre, stumbled out of the shadows of an open doorway. His chestnut brown hair, cut short at the nape, looked damp and tousled. His cheeks were ruddy, and he grinned like a besotted fool.
Geoffrey blew a breath and lowered the knife. “Dominic.”
“A bloody Turk could have charged up behind you, and you would not have heard,” Dominic said with a good-natured chuckle. With his hand, he stifled a belch.
A flush burned Geoffrey’s cheekbones. Surely he had not been that engrossed in watching her. He shrugged off the sting of embarrassment and sheathed the dagger. “I heard you well enough. Still, I am glad ’twas you, and not a drunken brute.”
“Aye.” Dominic’s gaze darted to the putrefying piles of vegetables and manure beside him as if they might suddenly transform into fly-covered demons. “’Tis common knowledge back alleys hide the worst thieves, pickpockets, cutthroats . . . even vengeful lords plotting to claim keeps.” When Geoffrey frowned, Dominic laughed. “Milord, what had you so captivated?”
Geoffrey snorted. “I was not captivated.”
“Ha! You stared into the market as though you spied a chest full of silver. Or a wench eager for a tumble.”
“Wrong on both accounts.”
“Not a wench?” Dominic’s brown eyes widened. “Mayhap I do not know you as well as I thought. You once boasted quite a reputation with the fair sex.”
“Enough! Tell me, what did you learn?” Geoffrey glanced back at the market, in time to see a scrawny urchin snatch a joint of meat from the butcher’s stall.
Dominic plucked straw from his tunic’s cuff. “It seems you visit Wode at a fortuitous time. The men in the alehouse were most willing to chat once we had shared a few rounds of brown ale. The miller complained of all the sacks of grain he must grind so the castle’s chief cook can prepare the wedding feast—”
The butcher’s roar carried above the buzz of voices. The boy fled, clutching his prize to his chest, and vanished into the crowd. Elizabeth turned, a look of surprise on her face. Sunlight played over the black curls at her brow and wove highlights into the glossy braid falling to her waist.
Geoffrey remembered the soft brush of her hair on his sleeve. He shoved the thought from his mind. “Wedding?”
“Brackendale’s daughter’s. She is betrothed to the notorious Baron Sedgewick. They are to be married on the town church’s portico in seven days.”
Geoffrey’s eyes narrowed. So there was a suitor. As he watched, unable to wrest his gaze away, she halted the butcher’s angry pursuit of the urchin. With a smile and a few words, she put something into the butcher’s hand. Coins.
The lady had a heart, unlike her father. How ironic that a lord who could cut down a man in front of his young son could sire such a compassionate daughter.
Clenching his jaw against the foolish and unwelcome sympathy, Geoffrey said, “The marriage will never happen.”
“’Tis a clever union. Brackendale’s estates border Sedgewick’s. If either lord should die, the marriage allows the holdings to merge and create the largest estate in all of Moydenshire.” Dominic waved a hand in the air. “Yet, even more important, Brackendale gains a powerful ally.”
A growl burned Geoffrey’s throat. The sound echoed in the wounded reaches of his soul, the place that would only heal when he had vengeance. “As I said, ’twill never happen.”
Dominic arched an eyebrow. “King Richard rewarded you well for your valor in the Crusades, but surely you do not expect your small estate or your new position as lord of Branton Keep to have any influence upon this wedding.”
“You underestimate me.”
Dominic shook his head, as though he reasoned with a stubborn child. “Milord, you have lived at Branton for only two months. The fortress is in disrepair. Your wealth and position are insignificant compared to Brackendale’s or Sedgewick’s, and you have neither the money nor the armies to challenge them to battle.” His mouth eased into a wry grin. “Admit it. Until Pietro sends the profits from the silk trade in Venice, you must watch how you spend every bit of silver.”
“’Twill not cost me one bit,” Geoffrey murmured, shoving away from the tavern wall, “if we have the right pawn.”
“Pawn? Now we speak of chess? I thought—”
“I mean the daughter.”
Geoffrey tilted his head toward the market. Dominic scanned the throng until, at Geoffrey’s nod, his gaze alighted on Elizabeth. She stood peering down at the wagon-churned dirt. She seemed to be searching for a lost treasure. Her ribbon?
Followed by her guard and lady-in-waiting, she walked on a few paces, her strides fluid and graceful.
Dominic whistled. “’Twas a wench, after all.”
Geoffrey dragged a hand over his jaw. He tore his gaze from the shimmer of pale silk at her ankle.
“A rare beauty, is she not?”
A rough laugh burst from Geoffrey. “The lady is a spoiled, haughty little—”
“For the spawn of Lord Brackendale, I believe that is a compliment.” Dominic’s eyes sparkled.
“’Twould not matter if she were buck-toothed, bow-legged, or as ugly as sin.” Geoffrey clenched his fists against seething bitterness and anguish. “She is Brackendale’s flesh and blood. I vow he would move heaven and hell to ensure her safety.”
The mirth vanished from Dominic’s features. “Milord?”
“Wode will be mine, but without unnecessary expense or bloodshed.” Geoffrey swallowed the vile taste flooding his mouth. Over the course of a lifetime, he had witnessed more killing than any sane man could bear. He would never forget the slaughter—of innocents and warriors alike—that had stained the ground at Acre crimson with blood. He would not forget his brother’s sacrifice.
Nor would he forget the last, strangled breath that marked his father’s passing, or forgive his dishonorable death.
An armed man elbowed his way toward the lady. The second guard. Soon, word of the morning’s mishap would reach Brackendale, and if he cared half as much about his daughter as Geoffrey suspected, the town would be swarming with men-at-arms. He must not be captured.
Not now, when revenge would soon be within his grasp.
“What do you intend?” Dominic asked.
Silent laughter swirled up inside Geoffrey. “By this afternoon, Brackendale will receive word of fires in the village of Tillenham. Devastating blazes, rumored to be set by my hand.”
Dominic scratched his chin, a nervous sound. “A ruse, I trust?”
Geoffrey nodded. “A diversion.”
“And the daughter?”
She had abandoned her search for the ribbon, and her entourage was urging her to leave. She shook her head and pointed across the market. As she walked, sunlight and shadow skimmed over her, outlining her slender figure, her swaying hips, and her bottom’s fetching curve.
A primitive, sensual hunger roused in Geoffrey’s gut.
Vengeance would be delicious indeed.
“Through her,” he said, “I shall exact my revenge.”
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